Paterson Diocese Suspends Ex-Pastor from Priesthood

By Jerry Barca and Bill Swayze
Star-Ledger (Newark, New Jersey)
April 11, 2003

The popular former pastor of an East Hanover church was suspended from the Roman Catholic priesthood after a church panel heard allegations he sexually abused two girls 22 years ago, the Diocese of Paterson announced yesterday.

Monsignor William McCarthy, 63, who had led St. Rose of Lima Church since 1980 and a 40-year veteran of the priesthood, was suspended and ordered not to represent himself as a priest by Bishop Frank Rodimer on Tuesday, after a diocesan board reviewed a file turned over by the Morris County Prosecutor's Office.

The prosecutor's investigation uncovered allegations of sexual misconduct between 1981 and 1983 involving two girls, ages 6 and 8 at the time, said Ken Mullaney, an attorney for the diocese.

McCarthy, in a written statement sent to his parish in late March, said all sorts of false rumors were being spread throughout the parish by an individual who was pursuing a vendetta against him. In the statement, he did not specifically address the allegations of sexual misconduct.

Donald Belsole, an attorney for the women, declined comment last night.

Mullaney said the diocese did not learn the specifics until last week, 10 months after it turned over to the county "very vague" allegations contained in an anonymous letter received by the diocese last June. The allegations in the letter turned out to be unrelated to the information the prosecutor later developed.

"The diocese immediately turned to the Morris County Prosecutor's Office, giving investigators the letter and asking whether the diocese should take any action, but we were told not to take any action" against McCarthy, Mullaney said.

The attorney periodically inquired about the status of the probe but he didn't receive, until April 3, a half-inch file reporting the alleged abuse that took place between 1981 and 1983. While the girls might have been parishioners, the alleged acts did not occur in the church, Mullaney said.

According to diocesan statement released yesterday, the statute of limitations has expired and this prevents criminal prosecution, but a church review board set up for such cases will pursue the allegations "to the fullest capacity."

"We have not been sitting on this," diocesan spokeswoman Marianna Thompson said. "We just received the information Friday and acted as quickly as possible."

Buddy Cotton, director of the New Jersey Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said the diocese had no way of acting on the allegations because the prosecutor's office had the case file. "The diocese's behavior is reasonable here," Cotton said.

The review board is acting under guidelines adopted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops last June, after dioceses across the nation were accused of permitting incidents of pedophilia and other sexual misconduct to go unpunished.

"The person would be removed immediately once an accusation is deemed credible and, if it's a proven accusation, then it's a permanent removal," said Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the Bishop's Conference in Washington, D.C.

In an interview with The Star-Ledger last year, McCarthy reflected on the scandal that has rocked the church.

"Anybody that would commit an act like that is sick and is suffering from a mental disease," he said. "Pedophiles are obsessive-compulsive individuals. They are not able to control themselves and they have to be put away."

McCarthy, who has prostate cancer, abruptly retired two weeks ago after announcing earlier that he would be stepping down in June for health-related reasons.

His early retirement, coinciding with a police call in response to McCarthy's report of a possible break-in at the rectory on March 25, prompted a whirlwind of speculation in the parish.

"Please spread the word that all these wild rumors are untrue," McCarthy wrote in a letter to parishioners that same week. "Some people seeing two police cars at the rectory let their imagination run away with them. All kinds of rumors surfaced 1) Fr. McCarthy died; 2) Fr. McCarthy collapsed; 3) Fr. McCarthy was arrested etc. 4) There was a robbery. All of which are totally false and somewhat amusing."

When the furor did not end, he penned another letter, branding the rumors "totally false" and blaming them on an unnamed individual "who has a vendetta against me because of conflicts in the past."

Yesterday, a priest at the parish office refused comment while other parishioners reacted with shock or sorrow.

"I feel terribly about this whole thing," said East Hanover Township Council President William Agnellino.

McCarthy presided over Agnellino's marriage in 1981. He also baptized and gave first Communion to the councilman's two children. "He was always a great spiritual leader for the community," the councilman said.

Lori Pompei, whose children attended the parish school, said she was disappointed and hoped the allegations are untrue.

"There's been so many crazy rumors floating around," said Al Batwinas, a parishioner for 40 years. "You don't know what to believe."

McCarthy, a native of Ireland, was ordained to the priesthood in 1963 and emigrated to the United States, where he was first assigned to St. Patrick's Church in Chatham. He also served at St. Michael's in Netcong and St. Cecilia's in Rockaway before becoming pastor of St. Rose's in 1980.

In addition to a master's degree in counseling, McCarthy taught himself ventriloquism. "His interest in the children of the parish is evident in a special way when the puppet Rollie makes his weekly appearance in the homilies," the parish Web site said.


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